Karen O has a history of the most daring fashions when she takes the stage with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s hard to say if they’re costumes, or part of a larger persona, or if it’s simply what she wore to the grocery right before sound check. But what she wears she doesn’t merely don, she takes up and owns.
That’s what, metaphorically, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ latest effort “Mosquito” is like: to reduce a fully fleshy piece of performance art down to a pair of funny trousers and heart-halting stage banter would be to miss the point. Sonically, there’s a common string there, tensions between damage and invincibility, shaman-esque to inappropriate, blustering to succinct, a coherent complexity aided by longtime producers David Sitek and Nick Launay.
Like in “Subway”: In a moment, Karen O expresses a melancholy that resonates with anybody who’s ever heard the retreating clack of the J/M/Z train line in their own 3 a.m. local-time manner. Instrumentally, the reverb and keys are uplifting, letting the listener on and sends the car to space. “Despair” has a tingling rhythm section that tap out anxieties and guitars that pan around expectantly. “Don’t despair,” O sings in her mouthy response to the desperate melodies. “You’ve always been there / you ’re there through my wasted years… there’s nothing to fear.”
The title track has the band repeatedly promising to “suck your blood” and the singer role-playing as the mosquito
, literally “bzzzzing” in the post-chorus and making this song, on paper, seem incredibly stupid (like, ahem, the album art). But, again, it’s about wearing it, and wearing it well: Nick Zinner let’s his six-string out on a little adventure, congas bleat in the background and all of a sudden you’re wearing wings too, oh godd*mn it. Similarly, “Area 52” – the YYYs version of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” but with, like, aliens -- demands some listener participation as the laser sounds, alarms, tribal drums, feedback and vocal warping send you on the trip or you stay stuck on Earth.
There are a few inclusions here that break up the band’s habits, good and bad. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy produced “Buried Alive,” which also features the only guest spot on the album from Dr. Octagon: the rapper harms the consistency, sadly, though his verse is great and in-and-out before you have time to object (yeah yeah… no). There’s another other-ness to the gospel choir on standout single “Sacrilege,” adding a few thousand extra kilowatts to a band that seemingly generates its own energy. Intimate love song “Wedding Song,” the closer, is a stunning but surprising reminder that there’s actual human behind walking hyperbole Karen O, which may send you running in slow-motion for the Kleenex… or to “Fever to Tell.”
You go where they go, wear what they wear, smoke what they smoke: that’s the requirements to get as funky and dark as “Mosquito” gets, which may be a bit too much to ask listeners who are looking for the simple joys of “Maps” or straight-forward garage-punk that made up the bulk hits of “It’s Blitz!”. Still, for most fans, “Mosquito” will have buzz long after the chart debut, the summer fest shows and the four years of anticipation. Put it on and wear it out.